How to Sew Perfect Circles

circles appliqued and embroidered on fabric

Need to know how to sew perfect circles on a sewing machine, without marking or tracing? This is a great hack that I first learned from a book called The Creative Sewing Machine by Anne Coleman. It’s a lot of fun, and you might even find yourself looking for more ways to use circles in your designs after you try it! Sewing in circles is great for applique, mock cathedral window quilts, potholders, or modern geometric wall hangings and pillows. And by the way, this circular sewing hack made my list of 17 Painter’s Tape Hacks to Make Your Sewing and Crafting Easier. Check out the post for more fun and easy tips!

embroidery and appliqued circles sewn on fabric with text overlay: sew perfect circles with no marking or tracing

How to Sew Perfect Circles on a Sewing Machine:

Sewing circles is very easy to do. All you need is:

  • A thumbtack (a lapel pin is even better)
  • Some painter’s tape (it’s repositionable and won’t leave marks on your sewing machine or table)
  • And possibly a stack of books, depending on how your sewing machine is sitting on your table.

The fabric you use should be relatively thick and sturdy. You can place it in an embroidery hoop, or use stabilizer if you want to use this method on a wispy piece of fabric. I’m demonstrating with a piece of a men’s button-up twill shirt that I had left over from another project. It wasn’t stabilized (or even ironed… my sister tells me I should iron my scraps when I use them to demonstrate techniques, but usually I don’t because IT’S BORING.)

setting up sewing machine to sew perfect circles

Place the thumbtack point-up on your table, directly to the left of the needle. (Don’t place the tack farther towards the front or back of the table. It should be straight to the left of the needle.)

The distance from the thumbtack to your needle should be half as wide as the circle you want to sew. The thumbtack will mark the center of your circle, and the needle is where the edge of the circle will be. So if you want to sew a circle that’s 12″ across, then you should place the tack 6″ away from your sewing machine’s needle. (That’s the radius, but I know math terms make some people panic, so you can just think of it as being half the width of your circle.)

Tape the thumbtack down to the top of your table. Poke the fabric down over it, right where you want the center of your circle to be. You can add a pinback from a lapel pin or earring on top of the fabric, if you want to.

Place the fabric under your presser foot, and smooth it down. Lower the presser foot and start to sew. The fabric will turn itself, and sew a perfect circle as it advances through the machine. Keep an eye on the fabric and guide it to make sure it’s feeding evenly as it turns around in a circle, and make sure that it’s staying down firmly on the pin. Once you’ve sewn a full circle, fasten your thread and remove the fabric from the sewing machine.

I’m using my treadle machine to demonstrate, because it seemed like a fun way to drive myself crazy. I just got it set up and I’m still figuring out how to use it. (I’d been practicing on that same scrap of fabric for a few minutes to get the hang of it.) The treadle action takes some getting used to, but I love the way it runs.

How to Sew Circles on a Sewing Machine That’s Not Level with Your Table:

If your sewing machine is not level with your tabletop, you will need to add a stack of books to your table in order to sew larger circles. Here, I’m demonstrating this on my vintage Kenmore sewing machine named Kenny.

stack of books next to sewing machine

Kenny is a great machine, but he’s free-arm capable, and doesn’t have hinges to be put inside a table. Do you have a machine like that (or you don’t have a sewing machine table)? You can still use this technique to sew perfect circles!

books taped to table next to sewing machine

Add books to make a stack that’s the same height as the bed of your sewing machine. Hold the books down with some strips of painter’s tape. Tape the tack down to the top book, and you’re good to go.

How to Applique Circles:

This is a tote bag I’m working on that has embroidered and appliqued circles. The base fabric is good old denim. The appliqued circles are made from some toile scraps that I got from an upholstery shop. The scraps weren’t large enough to make a project with, but I thought they were beautiful, and deserved to be the center of attention!

sewing circles on a sewing machine

Here’s how to applique in a circle! Place some fabric that you want to use for applique on top of your base fabric. Sew in a circle using a straight stitch. Then trim away the excess fabric on the outside of your stitching line. Make sure that you keep track of the center of the circle, or leave the fabric on the pin like I have in the picture. Now switch your machine over to a satin stitch (a dense, wide zigzag stitch), or any other stitch suitable for applique, and sew around the circle again. The zigzag will cover the raw edges of your circle and finish it off nicely.

red and blue tote bag on crushed stone background with text overlay: super easy way to make striped tote bag handles

I also sewed some circular outlines on the tote bag, just by using a zigzag stitch without the applique fabric on top. I went with a random design, adding circles wherever they looked good to me. (And take a look at the straps… I also used the bag to demonstrate how to make striped tote bag handles. Check out the tutorial if you’re interested in this easy technique!)

Other Ways to Use Sewn Circles:

You can also easily sew concentric circles (circles within circles). Move the pin closer to the needle to sew the smaller circles, and farther away from the needle for the larger ones. Pierce the fabric in the same spot each time you sew a new circle.

Try using some of the decorative stitches on your sewing machine, or couching over some cording or yarn as you sew.

Some uses for sewn circles include sewing “frames” around embroidered art, making modern quilts or wall hangings, sewing applique, shadow applique, or reverse applique, stitching orange peel quilts, adding decorative embroidered circles to skirts and jackets, and making round throw pillows.

And take a look at this mock cathedral window quilt. It uses a very fun technique that’s easy but looks impressive when it’s finished. The lady who wrote the tutorial traces dinner plates to make her circles, but it would be a perfect place to use the tape-and-pin circular sewing technique. For a quilt like that, it doesn’t matter how large your circles are, as long as they’re all the same size.

circles sewn on fabric with text overlay: how to sew perfect circles

Now you know how to sew perfect circles on a sewing machine, with no marking or tracing! So what projects can you dream up to use sewn circles?

About SnazzyBot

I am an artist and fashion designer with a passion for helping people bring their own creative dreams to life. I love sharing my projects with fellow crafters, and I hope you find ideas and inspiration on my blog! As an Amazon affiliate, I earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you use my affiliate links to make a purchase.

6 Responses

  1. K

    This is exactly what I was looking for without needing to purchase an attachment. Thank you for this wonderful tip. Loved your treadle.

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